Victim's husband describes horror of Bradenton parking lot accident

jdeleon@bradenton.comFebruary 5, 2014 

The Chevrolet Tahoe SUV involved in the church accident that killed three and injured four ended up in a canal after the driver lost control of the vehicle. RICHARD DYMOND/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- It was a typical Sunday at church during a yearly Florida getaway, or so it started for John and Nelly Depooter.

After disembarking a cruise ship in Miami and visiting family in Orlando, the couple arrived Saturday night in Bradenton for a visit with friends from Ontario, Canada.

John and Margaret Vanderlaan gave them their bed to sleep in that night. The following morning, they all attended a Dutch Reformed Church service.

After the service, while holding his wife's hand, John Depooter turned to say hello to a familiar face.

"I heard the commotion, and I looked and there comes the SUV. It was gathering speed as we were talking," he said. "I see all these people jumping out of the way or getting pushed out of the way by the car."

Standing to his wife's left were Margaret Vanderlaan and Wilhemina Paul.

"As I kept turning I saw the SUV hit Margaret and Wilma. They got completely run over, underneath the vehicle," he said. "And then, where's my wife?"

The SUV sideswiped his wife. He said he believes the mirror whacked her in the face and knocked her to the ground unconscious.

Depooter's 67-year-old wife was one of four people seriously injured Sunday in the parking lot of the Sugar Creek Country Club at 3333 26th Ave. E. in Bradenton when Doreen Landstra of Palmetto backed a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe into a crowd of churchgoers.

Three women -- Vanderlaan, 72, Paul, 70 and Johanna Dijkhoff, 80 -- were killed in the accident.

"It was a terrible experience. I will never forget it," John Depooter said.

Moments passed, but it seemed much longer before he took his attention away from his wife and her injuries.

"I looked for my friend John (Vanderlaan) and I spotted him, and he is in a panic," he said. "I said, 'Where is Margaret?' and he says right there, she's right there and she is messed up badly.

Those two people looked like an animal that got run over by a car."

A woman paramedic arrived moments before the ambulances, and soon John Depooter was in the emergency room waiting area at Blake Medical Center, along with his friends John Vanderlaan and John Paul.

Time seemed to stand still as the three men waited to hear news of their wives' conditions. Depooter was the first called, with news his wife was stable and breathing.

"The doctor came in and said to Mr. John Paul: 'I'm sorry to have to tell you but your wife didn't make it. Apparently she passed away in the ambulance,'" he said. "Then, what seemed to be a long time but probably wasn't, he came and said: 'Mr. Vanderlaan, your wife didn't make it either.'"

Deopooter said he had a close call, too.

"If I hadn't turned and spoke to the gentleman I knew, I would have gotten hit with that mirror, I'm positive. I was that close," he said. "It's a terrible thing. My friend is going to have a very difficult time. He was very dependent on his wife."

Depooter remains at his wife's hospital bedside, not knowing when she will be well enough to go home. The former nurse is heavily sedated and didn't recall Tuesday morning what had happened to her.

Funeral arrangements are being made for services to be held in Canada, he said.

"I told her what happened. Margaret, she is dead," he said.

His wife reacted to the news of the loss of her closest friend, Margaret Vanderlaan, he said. Whether she was alert enough to truly understand, he said, he still doesn't know.

Doctors still don't know the extent of his wife's head injury, Depooter said.

Two of Depooter's daughters were to arrive late Tuesday. The couple has five children and 16 grandchildren, with one more on the way.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating whether Landstra will face criminal charges, according to spokesman Lt. Greg Bueno.

John Depooter recalls seeing Landstra in a wheelchair in the church service that day.

"I was told that she walks around in a walker, so she has trouble getting around," he said.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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